Lucas Cranach The Elder - inv. 1037

Lucas Cranach The Elder (1472-1553)

Saint John the Baptist
oil on wood  
18,3 x 12,5 cm
1908 acquisition 
Inv. 1037

Foreign Artist Room
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This work is linked to The Immaculate Conception (inv. 1038).

These two tiny panels form a diptych representing the Virgin and Child and Saint John the Baptist and are united by the same background landscape. The Baptist can be identified thanks to his traditional attributes – the leather tunic, the book, the lamb, the cross – and by the inscription “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John”, from the Gospel (John 1:6). Standing on a crescent moon, following a northern European iconography, the Virgin is crowned by two flying angels, while Jesus is taking a rose from his mother’s hand.
Despite their small dimensions, the two panels are so full of details, they should be looked at through a magnifying glass. Cranach accurately describes the fur of the Baptist’s tunic, enriched with touches of gold: the leaves, flowers and grasses, pictured one by one. The artist describes the lace cuff of the Virgins robe, her hair, which seems ruffled by a light breeze. It seems as though the air really does move over the land, bathed by the light of sunset.
One of the most important painters of the German sixteenth century, Cranach came from a family of artists (his father and sons were painters). For almost all his life he worked in Wittenberg at the court of the prince electors of Saxony, but he also painted for other patrons, becoming renowned as a portrait painter and for his profane nudes. This diptych is datable to the years between 1550 and 1552, when the artist was in Augsburg, where he had the opportunity to see Italian works, evoked in the monumental and almost classical figure of the Baptist.


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